Monday, May 28, 2018

Study Abroad ECC Australia

A study abroad program based on the Expanded Core Curriculum
I am so excited to share this post with everyone because this is all about Study Abroad ECC Australia! This has easily been added to my top 5 education experiences. I almost don't even know where to start. Just kidding! I will start at the beginning. The beginning is gratitude to my school, the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind, for supporting this idea! Two years ago I led us on an exchange program with Camp Abilities Ireland and that kicked off our study abroad program. I learned that Australia also has a recognized Expanded Core Curriculum and started researching schools. And now we had a study abroad location: Australia! 
We partnered with RIDBC Sydney and SA School for the Blind (SASVI) in Adelaide. 
It was critical to us that our program was a true education endeavor from start to finish. Students had to apply for the program based on a college application. After a review committee used a rubric, scored the essays and selected the students, we were in business!

students with vision impairments pose for a group picture with art
We spent the next 2.5 months together in an Expanded Core Curriculum bootcamp! The entire study abroad program was based on the ECC--my dream scenario :) Each week students completed projects from transportation to recreation and leisure. We used distance education, technology and on campus sessions for our work. One of my favorite instruction tools was using some of my former students as mentors. These former students are all domestic and international travelers. We had Zoom sessions (like Skype) and students asked questions and listened intently to advice from mentors. 
 Here are some of our examples of lessons that we did in preparation for traveling to Australia:

  • On campus session. Students had to work with their mobility instructors and themselves to coordinate traveling to campus as a group. No parents could provide transportation to campus.
  • Financial Academy. They also had to be enrolled in our distance education financial academy. Coursework went beyond budgeting but also covered accessibility for banks, where they want to live and the real world budgeting. 
  • Fundraising and coordinating. Students organized a variety show to help support their financial needs. They were in charge of coordinating, entertainment and ticket sales. 
  • Transition. We spent a lot of time focusing on skills (for right now) that would be needed later in adulthood. We used the Transition Skills Competency Checklist.
  • Weekly ECC in the real world projects. The main goal of the program was to help students see how the ECC is every where in their daily life. They learned all the skills that comprise the ECC. It was more in depth than just saying "independent living skills". They could list skill after skill that were included in the ILS section. 
  • Communication & presentation. They developed their public speaking skills for sure! The students were responsible for all presentations. They gave ECC presentations at schools, with Aussie students and teachers. They will forever remember all the areas of the ECC!

teacher holding a koala

There are few experiences these days that teachers can really feel like they are doing it right. This was my experience. We often write IEP goals, do lessons, camps, etc. but it's tough to see it all through. For the entire program I was able to "see it all through". It was fantastic to teach, coach, model and then watch them not only implement it but to get it in the marrow of their bones. These super six students learned to see how the ECC is part of everything they do and how it is the most important part of their education.
t shirt that reads: And then I learned that adventure was the best way to learn

Sydney Opera House
 What else besides the Expanded Core Curriculum did we do? The ECC was the most important objective of our instruction. However, in order to show how important it is, it needs to be taught through meaningful experiences.

Here are some of our adventures:

  • Touch tour of the Sydney Opera House. We had a special tour with a lots of hands on! The tour guide even brought out a small replica of the opera house. We got to get hands on and go back stage and see the sets, one of my students had the opportunity to sing and we got to learn so much about the famous opera house. 
  • Sydney Harbor Bridge Climb. This was an unforgettable experience! We suited up and climbed the iconic Sydney Harbor Bridge. Many of our students had very limited vision but we were still able to do so much on the bridge climb. We divided into small groups and got hands on and ears on with the climb. 
  • Sports, recreation & leisure. We had a variety of different recreation activities that were a blast! Most notably, we learned how to play a variety of sports that were accessible for people with vision impairments. We loved learning how to play blind cricket and Australian Rules Football. 
  • Australian Rules Football match. This one needed its own line because this was another unforgettable experience! We got to get on the field and high five the players as they came out. We had never seen this before so we loved learning the game. Thanks to our friends at SASVI who taught us how to play. 
  • Our koala cuddle. We loved visiting the Australian wildlife parks and learning about all the different native Australian animals but our favorite was the opportunity to hold a koala!

student playing blind cricket

group of students with vision impairments at an Australian rules football game

one male and one female student holding an Australian rules football game ball
The students had lessons on everything in the ECC (are you sick of me saying that?) especially in transportation situations that they don't always encounter. We did the traditional bus lessons but we also did lessons for taking a ferry, taxi/Uber, train and finding our way all over Sydney! That was no small feat as there is a ton of construction in Sydney.

The best part is that this isn't our only program. We are so excited to continue our Study Abroad programs! It truly has become one of my most treasured teaching experiences.
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Thursday, April 26, 2018

Use the Expanded Core to Teach Financial Literacy

Teach Financial Literacy Skills and Expanded Core Curriculum

A major part of independent living skills in the Expanded Core is money management. Money management skills are part of financial literacy. All youth need solid financial literacy skills for adulthood. We all know what happens when you don’t have good money skills! 

Many of our students receive ECC money management skills in terms of money identification skills. For example, folding money and using apps to identify it. However, there is so much more that our students need! Let’s incorporate the other ECC skills areas to help build a solid financial literacy skills foundation!

I recently started a distance education program with our school. The students do a majority of their learning at home and attend sessions over distance ed technology with me. They also come to campus for two full days of intensive hands on learning. 

I didn’t want to recreate the wheel with writing a financial literacy program for students. That can be super time consuming! I researched several programs and came away with a winner: Orange Owl Academy! There are several solid financial literacy programs but Orange Owl covered areas that many programs lacked. Orange Owl covered growth mindset, comparison of costs and had the most opportunities to implement ECC skills (beyond money management). 

Here’s an example of how I infused ECC: There is a section in the program where Teacher Taylor from Orange Owl asks students to think about their future home. I was able to implement transition skills, career ed and orientation and mobility into this whole session because we discussed transportation considerations, roommate living and access to work. 
Orange Owl has all videos that are accessible and a workbook. The workbook was a bit of a challenge for converting to .brf files (there were a lot of tables) but thanks to my faithful colleague, Becky who converted everything. We had a fully accessible workbook. 

We spent two full days on campus and that is where we targeted blindness specific skills. I also brought in some young adult blind mentors who helped lend some experience, tips and tricks for my students. 

The price for Orange Owl is $69.97. Our school paid for the subscription. The bonus is that our students and their family could do this together. We invited parents and siblings to do the course. The distance ed piece were weekly Zoom (like Skype) meetings. We did Orange Owl + the Expanded Core for 8 weeks. Each weeks has a theme that works with the Orange Owl curriculum. The Expanded Core piece is based on the EVALS assessment and the skills from the ECC. 

As the teacher, using the Orange Owl Academy curriculum helped me to focus on the ECC. I didn’t need to recreate the wheel with what financial skills to teach. It was a great partnering for me as I had students from all over the state participate in the program. 

Are you ready for the best news? 
I have spoken with Teacher Taylor from Orange Owl and we would love to invite more students to join! Families or schools will buy the subscription and can do the Expanded Core work with me. Please contact me, for more details. The Financial Academy can be done year round. I had some students who were able to get school credit for this. 

Here is the link for Orange Owl Academy to check out the program:

Monday, February 19, 2018

Make Your Own ECC Skills/Assessment Binder

Hi friends, A few weeks ago I decided to organize all my ECC assessments because I am always referencing them when writing lesson plans and activities. For every single thing I do with my students, I always reference my ECC assessments, EVALS and ILSA. I have previously scanned all my ECC tools into Google Drive and made them editable pdf files so I can use them easily. But accessing the digital files was tough when I am laying out all my resources. The answer came when I decided to compile all my ECC tools--skills, screening tools, assessments, examples of each area, etc.  into an easy to use binder. I've LOVED it! I use it all the time and all my tools are at my finger tips.

I whipped up a fun cover for my binder with an at-a-glance list of everything in my binder and hole punched all my copies. It took me about 20 minutes to make it all happen.
Here's what I have in my ECC Resource binder:
First is my areas and skills of the ECC handout that we made for our teachers. This is an at-a-glance of each of the 9 areas of the Expanded Core. This way I can always look for how each of the ECC areas can come up in school routines or activities.
5 of the 9 areas of the ECC with a bulleted list of skills for each area.
Picture of the areas & skills of the ECC handout.   
I also keep several sections of EVALS in my binder.  EVALS is a comprehensive assessment for students with vision impairments developed by TSBVI. I love EVALS because it is specifically written for students with vision impairments. Too often I meet teachers that borrow from other disability groups and use their assessments. The problem with borrowing those assessments is that it doesn't cover the unique needs of students with vision impairments. Our students require a special sequence of skills. I use the Exit  Assessment (both for students that need on-going support and will not need the support). EVALS comes as a kit with other tools in it: 
  • Two books of evaluations for the ECC areas
  • One book of evaluations for academic subject areas for Practical Academics and Basic Skills students
  • Independent Living Skills Assessment and On-going Evaluation
  • TAPS Comprehensive Assessment and On-going Evaluation
Every TVI must have access to EVALS! I can't say it enough--I use it for all my planning! If you are unfamiliar with EVALS, you can read up on it (and purchase it) here:

I also keep a copy of the entire Independent Living Skills Assessment (ILSA) because I also consider it a helpful tool. I use ILSA a lot to see the sequence of skills in each section. I also like it because it has the age group target so I can look forward and backward for each group of skills. The ILSA is a little out of date with skills (like they reference using a phone book) but it still has a lot of valuable use to it. I like to share the ILSA with parents because it shows them what skills by what age are ideal for students. I often copy a few pages and send it home and ask parents to fill it out to see what kind of skills students can do at home. 
I also keep a copy of my ECC worksheet that I use with my teachers. I use this worksheet when reviewing ECC skills instruction during everyday school routines. I use this worksheet when I am planning lessons and activities. I always outline how the activity meets the areas of the Expanded Core in my lesson plans. 

Other items that I have that are not pictured are an ECC screening tool developed by Karen Blankenship. You can get the screening tool from the website EA Rubrics. Here is the link for it: EA Rubrics has a lot of valuable information for teaching the essential assessments for students with vision impairments. The essential assessments are a functional vision assessment (FVA), learning media assessment (LMA) and the ECC screening tool. 
I totally recommend that all vision professionals create an Expanded Core assessment/skills binder. It makes referencing skills and evaluating skills easy. Plus it helps me really know the areas and the skills. I have memorized several areas because I reference them often. 

Monday, January 29, 2018

The Amazing Race ECC Community Based Instruction

Amazing Race

We had so much fun using The Amazing Race as our Expanded Core lesson! It was a great way to do community based instruction (CBI). You can get all kinds of ideas for The Amazing Race activities online. I love Pinterest so I started there but there are a lot of great online resources to help plan. This particular Amazing Race was for our students and siblings of kids with vision impairments. 
To make this work as an effective ECC CBI, think about your skills and your location. It should be a good challenge but doable (this allows you to focus on meaningful instruction). I selected a mall that was not very large and didn't have an overwhelming amount of pedestrian traffic (this allowed me to really work on OM skills). We also went to a main street that had a good amount of stores and Walmart. 

Of course one of our first challenges was for everyone to learn about the ECC! I bought a ton of those onesie PJ costumes and my staff dressed up  so we would be obvious for our students to find for challenges. That just made things fun and silly for all. 
In addition to the clues pictured in the post, students had to work on their ECC skills such as time management, compensatory skills, a lot of different OM skills (using landmarks, monoculars, directionality) and self-determination. The teams needed to work on communication and team building skills. Each staff member had a lesson plan so that we could provide direct instruction on all these ECC topics. Clues were printed in large print and a Braille copy. 
As always, be mindful of areas that should have some pre-or post teaching. If students have to figure out a ton of items, the main objectives of the lesson get lost. Each group had a (staff) coach who provided some 5 minute instruction as the students played the game. We also wanted to work in transportation skills but it  was a challenge to work in public transportation. We used our school bus and named it the "rendezvous point". The bus was parked somewhere along the route and students had to use their mapping skills to locate it. 
No Amazing Race challenge would be complete without a food challenge. Enter the simulator kits and Oreos! This was for everyone. I bought every kind of Oreo cookie and students had to identify the flavor. It was actually a fun way of doing sensory efficiency because we had to work the other senses for sure!
This could easily be a repeated activity and not just a stand alone one day program. You can even give skill level of beginner, intermediate and advanced. There is so much potential and I can't wait to do it again! It also doesn't even need to be just a blind school camp activity, families can do this as well! Just remember some of the points that I shared so that it is accessible and fun. 

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Parent Mobility Resource

I am so excited to share a really great resource with you! Two of our super amazing orientation & mobility instructors have started a website all about OM skills. It has videos and lots of good tips for cane travel. The best part: it's all written for parents! The language and instruction is very parent friendly. 
This is definitely a resource you want to save and use over and over. 
I love the O&M skills tab where they break down O&M skills by grades. It lets parents know according to grade level what skills are appropriate. 
The other thing that I love is that both mobility instructors, Bethany & Linda, are not just instructors but have personal ties to the field. They bring their understanding of the vision impairment community to add to the resources. 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Teach STEM & The Expanded Core: Winter Lesson

Teach STEM for children with vision impairments

Hi friends! This is the first of many new posts about teaching STEM and the Expanded Core Curriculum together. I started running a STEM camp two years ago and have immersed myself in learning about the relationship between STEM & ECC. Good news--there are ton of ways you can teach the Expanded Core and STEM. I'll keep sharing tips, lessons and ideas. 
I use STEM lesson plans for my STEM side of things. My favorite place to hit up is Teachers Pay Teachers. 
I used this lesson plan from TPT: Pay attention to the terms of use when making copies or sharing. The lesson plans for this lesson are only $4 and you can buy digital extras for a good price. There are 3 different STEM lessons in this bundle. Below is a picture of my STEM lesson plan and my ECC plan (we added Braille labels using Braillables when we did the lesson).
The first part of my lesson focused on the Expanded Core areas. We spent some time digging in to learning about winter and sledding. We brought in several different types of sleds/tubes and had students check them out. Students climbed on the sleds, checked out their details and learned how they worked. Then we discussed the special clothing needed for winter (independent living skills), how to access weather conditions (use of AT) and how to get on the sled (orientation & mobility). Social interaction skills are always an important piece of community instruction. We had single person and two person sleds to discuss social pieces. We also addressed social communication (the type of language/words they may hear to need to know) and nonverbal body language. 
Below are pictures of the students checking out different types of sleds/tubes.

Discussion & hands on learning:
·      What is a sled?
·      What is a sled ramp?
·      Tubing vs. sledding

·      Where can you go sledding?

The STEM activities were pretty fun. The sledding lesson went well with the ECC part. The lesson asked for card stock paper to make the sled but we had plenty of Braille paper hanging around so we used that. We swapped standard font sized rulers for our LP/Braille ones. We did a few practice rounds so that our students who had no vision could get the hang of sending their sled (bottle cap) down the sledding ramp. We used tape to mark the sled distance. This makes it possible for our students to measure with their ruler. 

Note: we followed all of the lesson plans for learning the concepts covered in the STEM lesson. I like to use meaningful terms for our students so we are hands on as much as possible. For example, we rubbed our hands together and then palms on the table to learn about friction and we discussed units of measurement that students know for distance.
Here's how I incorporated ECC areas in this lesson:
Expanded Core instruction: Students will strengthen their understanding of sledding.
·      Compensatory skills: concept development of sledding
·      Social interaction skills: people go sledding together; social vocabulary, social etiquette
·      Independent Living Skills: what type of special clothes do you wear for sledding?
·      Orientation & Mobility: body & spatial awareness; directionality, mobility in the snow
·      Sensory efficiency: how does being outside in winter affect your senses?
·      Recreation & Leisure: exploration of sledding as a recreation activity
·      Career Education: understanding the rules or etiquette of the hill; who works at resorts?
·      Use of AT: how can you access weather reports and other information to find out more information about sledding?
·      Self-Determination: developing new skills; making preferences for different types of sledding (tubes vs. sleds/going solo or with friends)

SSTEM is a growing area for all students. Students with vision impairments do not need to be left behind! There are so many ways our students can have meaningful STEM experiences. I love that it also a great opportunity to extend learning by incorporating the Expanded Core.